Helping children with gender identity issues

Helping children with gender identity issues

Gillian Gonzalez

Kate Legge’s article on children who suffer from gender dystopia (“Making the switch”, Weekend Australian Magazine July 18/19), suggested that gender reassignment is the answer.

There is no denying that life for these children and their families, can be challenging, However, the view that gender reassignment provides the solution is seriously questioned by Dr Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, (USA).

After pioneering sex-change surgery, Johns Hopkins stopped offering the treatment in the 1970’s as it was demonstrated that the practice brought no important benefits.

Follow up research extending over thirty years in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered, documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.

Dr McHugh labels the current belief, that your sex is a feeling not a biological fact and can change at any time, “a pathogenic meme”.

He believes that these children come to their ideas about their sex though a variety of youthful psychosocial conflicts and concerns – conflicts over the prospects, expectations and roles that they sense are attached to their given sex- and presume that sex reassignment will ease or resolve them.

Dr McHugh is convinced that gender dysphoria — the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex — “belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder.”

He added, “Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.”

GILLIAN GONZALEZ,
Vice-President,
Australian Family Association (WA)
Belmont, WA

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